Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Things Get Crazy in Martinsville, Saving NBC From a Terrible Sunday

Martinsville Speedway is the final race weekend of the Round of 8 for both the NASCAR Cup Series and the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Everyone in the playoffs is going to race their hardest to get into the Championship 4, not to mention the other drivers, who are out there to do their best. Of course, there’s no shortage of crazy things that can happen as well. That can make for good television.

Xfinity 500

Rarely do you get two races in the same weekend where the very end of the race is the only thing that you’re going to remember. That’s what you got in Martinsville.

Sunday’s race will be remembered for Ross Chastain’s move on the final lap of the race to lock himself into the Championship 4.

It’s a good thing that it will be because you might not like the actual truth about that race. NASCAR needs to go back to the drawing board.

Back to Chastain’s move. I didn’t even notice what he was doing on the final lap. It was like someone hit the fast-forward button. Rick Allen was able to catch up with Chastain just as he crossed the start-finish line. I only saw a bunch of smoke out of the corner of my eye and had no idea what was happening.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is always the most observant of the booth commentators and made out exactly what Chastain was doing. After the race, Chastain claimed that it was a move that he had tried out on NASCAR 2005: Chase For The Cup with his brother Chad.

I fully admit that I did stuff like what Chastain did Sunday on video games when I was younger. It never worked at Martinsville.

Chastain’s video game move has probably given NASCAR the most positive viral publicity in quite a while. Our former colleague Davey Segal (now with SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) put together this collage of reaction tweets.

The move made No. 1 on SportsCenter’s Top 10 and trended for hours on Twitter in the United States. If anything, this move will garner Chastain more respect from his peers than anything else he’s ever done in Cup. Given how 2022 has gone for Chastain, he could use the boost.

Now for the downside of all this: I can’t recall a less competitive race at Martinsville, ever. Think back to the two races in 2019 where there were a grand total of six lead changes in 1000 laps. Both of those races had more passing than Sunday’s race did. NASCAR’s loop data shows 674 total passes under green in a 500-lap race. That is 32% less than the spring race in 2019. Yikes.

Sunday’s race had eight lead changes, three more than in the Spring. However, only three of those occurred under green and just one (Christopher Bell’s pass for the win) occurred after lap 125.

The track was effectively a no-passing zone for the first 50 laps of each run. That is untenable and without significant changes, risks rendering all of the short track races, including the all-important All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro next year, nothing more than parades. That can’t work for the sport going forward. They have to do something. I don’t know what it is that they changed for this race, but it didn’t work as passing was down significantly from the spring.

On the broadcast, this was something akin to a worst-case scenario. NBC wanted to show great action, but the rules package just wasn’t up to it. The only way you could get anything done was by forcing the issue, but you couldn’t even get there to do so.

That’s rather depressing to think about. Unlike a lot of broadcasts, a lot of the racing for position tended to be closer to the end of the race. The last 40 or so laps of the race was the only time where there were truly different strategies at play, unlike Saturday’s race. As a result, this was the most competitive time in the race. Take that away and this would have been one of the worst races of the last 30 years.

Toward the end of the race, you got multiple battles and it became fun to watch. Everything else was not.

NBC Sports also debuted a new camera in Brad Keselowski’s helmet Sunday afternoon, giving viewers a never before seen view. This was a crystal clear shot done via a partnership between RFK Racing and Racing Force Group.

It was not the first time that such technology has been used in motorsports. Heck, over on ESPN, a similar camera was in use during the Formula 1 race in Mexico City, which aired directly against the Cup race. Looking further back, there were standard definition in-helmet cameras in use in CART back in 2002.

 

Of note, in-car cameras in NASCAR are generally considered to be a shared resource between the various TV partners and provided by BSI. This was not one of those.

Also of importance, Keselowski got spun out early in the final stage when Chastain overshot the entry to turn 3. Even that minor tap on the wall really showed up on the in-car camera as a significant jolt.

The race ended ahead of schedule. Viewers got a number of post-race interviews, both on NBC and Peacock. However, they were all with playoff drivers. People like Keselowski (before he was disqualified) were left out. Given the fact that they had 45 minutes to burn, they might as well interview them as well.

Since NBC did not do so (or they did and chose not to air them), the onus is left to the media members on-site. Frontstretch had three people at Martinsville Sunday and we did take the time to talk to Keselowski about his day. The video that resulted from that has 111,000 views, as of this writing.

Dead On Tools 250

Saturday’s Xfinity race at Martinsville will be remembered for one thing: Ty Gibbs intentionally wrecking his own teammate, Brandon Jones, to win a race that he technically didn’t need to win.

You don’t need me to tell you that this was ridiculous. The broadcast booth didn’t outright say this, but it was obvious that they were not fans. Steve Letarte stated that “it doesn’t take much talent to run someone over from behind.” Allen legitimately called the move a punt, which is rare.

After he wrecked Jones, Gibbs gave a post-race interview in which he tried to do the whole Dale Earnhardt thing from Bristol in 1999. He didn’t use the same words, but he was definitely trying to go in the “I was just trying to rattle his cage” direction. That didn’t really fly then, and definitely doesn’t hold water now. It just made the fans angrier.

At this point, Gibbs’ talent is undeniable. However, he seems to have the maturity of an eighth grader. Just because of that, I’d say that he’s not ready for Cup. It might be two years before he’s mature enough. I don’t know if he’s mature enough to be where he is now. In the coming weeks, regardless of what happens in Phoenix, Gibbs will need to sit down and think about himself and his actions. Joe Gibbs Racing, his grandfather and mother can help here. He has to carry himself in a certain fashion once he’s in the Cup Series in order to succeed both on and off the track. He’s not there yet.

Unfortunately, the other side of the story ended up being exclusive to Peacock. Jones got his time on there and you had a somewhat similar tone there to when Denny Hamlin spun out Chase Elliott back in 2016. The result was something of a redemption for Jones, who I’m confident had fans all along, but they weren’t that vocal. I don’t think anyone was planning on that happening.

There were also post-race altercations Saturday. Austin Hill went after Myatt Snider following the race, but the broadcast really didn’t catch it. A later check revealed this move, which aired Sunday during Countdown to Green prior to the Cup race.

The two had collided during the race, causing a near track blockage in turn 4 on lap 219. Something else was in play, though. That was a minor spin that Hill caused. We’ll have to see what happens going forward because that could have been nasty.

As compared to the Cup race, the Xfinity race was far more enjoyable to watch. It was way more competitive, even if it was a bit of a wreckfest late. You even had contrarian outside line moves that you really haven’t seen at Martinsville since before the last repave 18 years ago. It was truly enjoyable to watch. You had options.

Prior to the race, NBC had a full hour of Countdown to Green from Martinsville. I figured that this would have been a good time to give a more comprehensive discussion of the Xfinity Series, maybe talk to more drivers and cover more story lines.

Wrong. Even though this was an Xfinity Series pre-race show, half of it was dedicated to Cup, including an interview with Bubba Wallace, fresh off of his suspension and humbled. That whole scenario did not seem right to me. Yes, Wallace coming back is noteworthy, but this was Xfinity time. They could have done the Wallace interview prior to the Cup race on Sunday race.

Overall, Saturday’s race was the more enjoyable race to watch. There was a lot more action, and NBC came with its A-game to show it. I just wish the race didn’t go as long as it did because of the GWCs so that viewers on NBC could have gotten more out of it.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend will see NASCAR settle championships in four different series at Phoenix Raceway. Friday is a doubleheader with ARCA Menards Series West first, then the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Saturday sees the NASCAR Xfinity Series wrap-up, while Sunday will see the Cup teams race 312 laps to wrap up the season. TV Listings can be found here.

We will provide critiques of the three major races in Phoenix in next weekend’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. In the Critic’s Annex, we’ll have some additional content for you to take in.

If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique, feel free to post in the comments below. Even though I can’t always respond, I do read your comments. Also, if you want to “like” me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, please click on the appropriate icons. If you would like to contact either of NASCAR’s media partners, click on either of the links below.

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As always, if you choose to contact a network by email, do so in a courteous manner. Network representatives are far more likely to respond to emails that ask questions politely rather than emails full of rants and vitriol.

About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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sb

Holy Joe should be embarrassed that his grandson shows so little maturity. I can’t imagine what Brian Jones sponsors think about that move. Not going to make finding sponsors any easier. Thank goodness for Ross Chastain for salvaging what was another lackluster short track race. Leave it to Nascar to ruin some of the best racing with the ‘Concussion Car’.

Bill B

I am glad you documented how boring the race was overall. There is definitely a problem with this next-gen car and short tracks. The fact that a race at Martinsville ended with 45 minutes left over is an indicator that something is not right. The fantastic ending kind of made everyone forget how bad the rest of the race was. I can say I was really PO-ed by the end of the second stage. Had the spring race not been equally as bad I’d have assumed it was just everyone playing nice because it was the race to decide the championship four, but that obviously wasn’t the case.

Little Hey-Zeus Gibbs is too puny to make a decent bad guy. There is nothing menacing about him. He’s just a little prick with a chip on his shoulder in need of a good ass-kicking. Hopefully someone will take care of that sooner than later. There is nothing likeable about him. What an arrogant, entitled little D-bag.

John

Completely agree. Nascar turned a blind eye to Dale Sr and the media continues to play up his similar action to Gibbs’ as heroic. Why wouldn’t Gibbs try to be just like the most adored driver in Nascar history? Nascar wants entertainment for its fans even if its at the expense of the essence of sport.

Charlie

I was there Sunday. Wish I had a book to read. They have a definite problem with the car on those tracks. To say it was boring gives boring a bad name. It was horrindus. Had old Ross not made his move, it still would have been dullsville. When I saw him coming, I really thought someone had punted him down the backstretch. When he headed for the line, you could tell it was deliberate. It was worth the misery to watch the finish.
Also NBC, I WILL NOT watch streaming. In fact, I have a friend who does and I will avoid any advertisers who support it. Of course, people like me will eventually die so you don’t have to worry, but advertisers, I have disposable income and my MBA and marketing proweress tells me we still have impact. So, remember that.
Ty Gibbs, a joke.

wildcats2016

Martinsville used to be a great place to watch a race. There was passing – even if sometimes it was bump and run passing. This race was not fun to watch. Glad I didn’t spend $$ for airfare, tickets and all of the other things that are required to travel to a race. I’d have been very disappointed.

Mr Yeppers

65 times either “championship four” or “points” was spoken from the drop of the green to the checkered flag. And I’m sure I missed a few incidences. My wife has a small hand counter she uses with her school class so I borrowed it for the day.

Bill B

Did you get any blisters on your hand? ;)

Mr Yeppers

Haha. I actually think in the other cut races the word points was used way more. Maybe next year I’ll try counting again.

Carl A

Watching the Cup race I had to remind myself that there was more than 8 cars in the race.

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